One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received was in French.
Several years ago while working in Montreal, I got a small piece of valuable advice. I was working with my good friend, director Guillaume de Fontenay. Guillaume is a French Canadian from Montreal. Guillaume is the french equivalent of the name William. So I assume that in french Billy the Kid is called Gilly L’enfant.
One evening at dinner Guillaume shared a story about an interaction he once had that greatly angered him. He said his natural desire was to verbally lash out at the other person. But the point of the story was that he didn’t lash out. Instead, he replied with something smart and considered. Guillaume confided,
‘We have a little saying in French for when you are angry…’
Il faut tourner sa langue sept fois dans sa bouche avant de parler. “
-Smart French Saying
Guillaume translated this for me as: Twist your tongue seven times before you speak.
It is very good advice in any language.
It is important to think before you speak. Since hearing this saying I have leaned on it countless times. And it has never failed me. It works at work and at home. It works with strangers and friends. It works like magic when you are seeing red and your blood is boiling. It works when you have something sharp on the tip of your tongue. It works when you feel salty, disappointed, or jealous. In fact, the only time I have found it doesn’t work well is when you are in the dentist’s chair. Because those people have work to do. (Sorry Faith and Dr. Tina.)
But This One Goes to 11
I can also say that in my anglophone mouth, it is often better to twist more than 7 times. When you are angry or emotional it is often best to hold off until the next day, or the next week before responding. Which can mean a lot of tongue-twisting. Like sister Susie sitting on a thistle as she sells sea shells at the seashore.
But perhaps the most important lesson I have discovered through the employment of this très bon advice is that after tiring your tongue out through the twisting there is no longer an urge to speak at all. And no response to the people who have angered, offended, or irritated you is often the best response of all.
Twist your tongue 7 times before you speak. More if necessary. It will give you time to think. It will give your tongue time to cool. And it will prevent you from saying things you later regret.
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Note: In French, tourner actually means turn. But twist is what Guillaume said. And the saying sounds cuter that way.